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Rosenberg Treasure: Shrimping, the Gulf Coast, and a Talk with the Texas Shrimp Diva

Shrimping, the Gulf Coast, and a Talk with the Texas Shrimp Diva

Rosenberg Treasure of the Month

Last Updated: March 14, 2023 by Rosenberg Library | History


During the month of March, the Rosenberg Library is displaying paintings, sketches, photographs, and postcards of the Mosquito Fleet.

Mosquito Fleet postcard circa 1910
Mosquito Fleet Postcard, circa 1910 Courtesy of the Rosenberg Library and Museum

Ask most people what they know about shrimp and they’ll likely answer “they’re delicious!” In Galveston, shrimping may remind many of Pier 19’s “Mosquito Fleet,” a fleet of shrimping boats that resemble mosquitos when the nets are out. Shrimp boats have docked here since Galveston’s early days, selling their catch and earning a living.

Emil Bunjes Sketch of the Mosquito Fleet
Emil Bunjes Sketch of the Mosquito Fleet Courtesy of the Rosenberg Library and Museum

The Rosenberg Library Museum and the Galveston and Texas History Center are home to paintings, sketches, photographs, and postcards of the Mosquito Fleet. In the Treasure of the Month display, there is a postcard called Blessing of the Shrimp Fleet (ca. 1970), a postcard of the Mosquito Fleet (ca. 1910), and a sketch of the Mosquito Fleet by artist Emil Bunjes. Visitors can also find a painting titled Shrimping by Carol Hopkins in the McGivney Collection, hanging in the second floor Grand Hallway.

Blessing of the Shrimp Fleet Postcard - circa 1970
Blessing of the Shrimp Fleet Postcard – circa 1970 Courtesy of the Rosenberg Library and Museum

While men and women alike enjoy eating shrimp, shrimping itself has traditionally been a male-dominated industry, consisting of hard work and secrets passed down between fathers, sons and grandsons. But across the waves of Galveston Bay, some may notice a woman in pink working a shrimp boat. Rosenberg Library had a chance to speak with her as part of March’s Treasure of the Month.

Texas Shrimp Diva with Captain Kunz
Texas Shrimp Diva with Captain Kunz Courtesy of the Rosenberg Library and Museum

Nicole (Nikki) Johnson-Kunz, famously known as the “Texas Shrimp Diva,” and her father-in-law Captain Jerome “Pops” Kunz, have been shrimping together on Galveston Bay since 2018. At age 89, Captain Kunz is the oldest active shrimper in the Galveston area. A few years ago at a family dinner, Johnson-Kunz noticed a major injury on his leg. Concerned about his safety, she decided to ride along with him a few times a week so that he wouldn’t be alone in the boat. Eventually, she became his full time deckhand and does everything but steer!

Texas Shrimp Diva and Captain Kunz Shrimping Together
Texas Shrimp Diva and Captain Kunz Shrimping Together Courtesy of the Rosenberg Library and Museum

Johnson-Kunz filmed her progress on the boat and over time her social media presence blossomed. Today, it’s not uncommon for ferry-boat passengers to recognize her signature pink slickers and boots, wave, take pictures, and call out to her – “Diva!” In her videos, viewers have the chance to see what it’s like on Galveston Bay and all the sea life she encounters.

Double Crab Claw Caught by W.A. Schley at the South Jetty in Galveston
Double Crab Claw Caught by W.A. Schley at the South Jetty in Galveston Courtesy of the Rosenberg Library and Museum
Pufferfish Also Known as a Blowfish That Can Inflate into a Ball Shape to Evade Predators
Pufferfish, Also Known as a Blowfish That Can Inflate into a Ball Shape to Evade Predators Courtesy of the Rosenberg Library and Museum

Some of these creatures can be seen in this month’s display. One is the Strombus pugilis shell, which once held a sea snail. Another is a white coral skeleton. There is even a double crab claw, originally found at the South Jetty by donor W. A. Schley, a full-size pufferfish skeleton, and a ribbon of whelk eggs. A ribbon can reach up to 33 inches long, holding up to 99 eggs! These items will be displayed alongside a shrimp basket donated by Lise Darst, curator for the Rosenberg Library Museum from 1979 to 2004.

Johnson-Kunz hopes to keep the shrimping tradition alive and encourages people to buy shrimp that are local to the Galveston area. “I’m trying to teach people to look at the packaging when they purchase shrimp from grocery stores or markets,” Johnson-Kunz says. “Otherwise, we will lose our shrimpers forever.”

The Treasure of the Month is located on the library’s historic second floor near the East Entrance. It can be viewed during regular library hours, 9:00 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 9:00 a.m. – 8:45 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. For more information, please contact Ivy Albright, Museum Curator at 409.763.8854 Ext. 125 or at museum@rosenberg-library.org.


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Rosenberg Library

Rosenberg Library has offered over a century of community service to the Galveston area, and is the oldest public library in Texas in continuous operation. The building itself was dedicated on June 22, 1904, the birthday of its patron, Henry Rosenberg. The Moody Memorial Wing opened in 1971, more than doubling the floor space and allowing for a children’s library, a history center, several galleries to showcase museum collections, and later, a computer lab. The Library accepted its first museum piece shortly after it opened in 1904. Since then, thousands of rare and interesting objects from around the world have been added to the collection. Each month they display a “Treasure of the Month”. Learn more by visiting the Rosenberg Library page and the Gifts of Henry Rosenberg section.

2023-03-14T09:56:26-05:00

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This Sliding Bar can be switched on or off in theme options, and can take any widget you throw at it or even fill it with your custom HTML Code. Its perfect for grabbing the attention of your viewers. Choose between 1, 2, 3 or 4 columns, set the background color, widget divider color, activate transparency, a top border or fully disable it on desktop and mobile.